Ossified materialism: introduction to the special volume on absolute

In Journal of Cleaner Production
Volume (Issue): 132
Peer-reviewed Article

Drawing from papers in this special volume (SV), this introductory paper on absolute reductions argues that the magnitude, scope and urgency of the sustainability challenge require a drastic change in global civilisation, including a radical transformation of the institutional arrangements and socio-technical systems that facilitate the pursuit of wellbeing. The authors of this paper identify four main challenges to absolute reductions, including: the resource-intensive conventional template for development, macroeconomic structures and trade policies creating burden-shifting and inequality, a resource-efficiency improvements fallacy, and the dominant consumerist culture and lifestyles. The paper demonstrates the complexity of translating planetary boundaries into boundaries for resource use and targets for absolute reductions, proposing a practical approach starting with defining footprints for water, land and materials, and then proceeding to set resource boundaries. In seeking potential solutions, the paper highlights research addressing materials and product substitution, ecological fiscal reform with measures such as carbon taxation, sustainable lifestyles, design for sustainability, eco-innovation, and management of power dynamics in the production-consumption system. We then propose six domains in a research agenda for future research. These include: moving from niches and demonstration projects to broader norms; addressing reductions targets and indicators to guide policy and action; including policy design reflecting complexities such as time-lags, the resource nexus, and positive feedback loops; global resource governance; and convergence pathways between over-consuming and under-consuming societies. These areas will provide the science that will inform policy and business decisions and guide the engagement of practitioners to work towards sustainability transitions to equitable, sustainable, post-fossil carbon societies.